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Rivalry Week: What it means for…

Nick Saban AP

Rivalry Week is at once the best and worst of times for college football fans.

At its best, this extended weekend wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday offers up a litany of games that mean something beyond conference or BCS implications, giving all fan bases something just as meaty and satisfying: bragging rights and pride, especially when it’s an in-state rival humbled in defeat on the opposing sideline.  At its worst, however, this weekend means that yet another college football season is quickly wrapping up, with just a handful of regular season games remaining to go along with conference championship games and bowls.

There are, though, the obvious implications beyond just bragging rights and pride.  Myriad implications, from conference races to BCS placement to the chase for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.

So, with that as the backdrop, here’s a look at the marquee matchups for Week 14 and the potential implications the outcomes of the games could/would/should have on all fronts.

No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn
“The Mother of All Iron Bowls” indeed.  The stunning turnaround by Auburn under Gus Malzahn — from 3-9, 0-8 last season to 10-1, 6-1 in 2013 — has nearly overshadowed Alabama’s quest for three straight BCS titles and four in five years .  Who would’ve thought, prior to September, that this year’s version of the Iron Bowl would carry more conference and national weight than Alabama’s games against Texas A&M and LSU combined?  Certainly not anyone who doesn’t end their prayers with “War Damn Eagle!”  Speaking of a Higher Football Power, the last four Iron Bowl winners have gone on to win the BCS championship.

What it means for…
… the SEC: Everything, at least as far as the West is concerned.  It’s a winner-take-all battle, with the victor staking its claim to the divisional title and a spot in the conference championship game against either Missouri or South Carolina.  The Tide would earn a share of the divisional title even with a loss, although, obviously, the head-to-head tiebreaker would go to the Tigers with a win.
… the BCS: An Alabama win keeps the No. 1 Tide on its year-long inside track for one of the two spots in the BCS title game.  Even with a loss, Alabama would be a near-shoe-in for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl, although that wouldn’t be clarified until after the conference championship game.  The same could be said for Auburn, which would get serious consideration for an at-large bid despite an Iron Bowl loss.
… the Heisman: Thanks to the missteps of others in Week 13, AJ McCarron has suddenly vaulted into the No. 2 position behind Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the eyes of both the voters and the oddsmakers.  A strong performance on a national stage would most certainly keep the Tide quarterback toward the top of the conversation and, depending on how the Winston off-field situation plays out, could send him hurtling toward front-runner status.

No. 2 Florida State at Florida
To say that the Sunshine State rivalry has lost some luster for this year’s game would be an understatement.  While Florida State is more than holding up its end of the bargain — nationally-ranked and seemingly predestined for a shot at the crystal — Florida enters the game armed with an embattled head coach and a six-game losing streak that’s the program’s worst since 1979.  The Gators won last year in Tallahassee, although the Seminoles are four-touchdown favorites this year in The Swamp.  While his boss continues to back him, Will Muschamp directing an embarrassing blowout loss in Gainesville could force Jeremy Foley to reconsider that very strident public support.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Literally nothing for either conference.  FSU has already locked up the Atlantic division’s spot in the ACC championship game, while UF was long ago eliminated from SEC East contention.
… the BCS: For a team that’s outscored its opponents 402-65 the past seven games, this game would appear to be nothing more than a worn-down speed bump on its inexorable march to the BCS title game.  Seemingly the only thing standing between the Seminoles and an early-January date in the Rose Bowl is a win over the Gators as well as an ACC championship game in which they will be prohibitive favorites regardless of which team comes out of the Coastal.
… the Heisman: For Jameis Winston, the Heisman is his for the taking — provided he doesn’t trip over himself the next two weeks and, more importantly, the investigation into an alleged sexual assault doesn’t give him bigger things to worry about than a fumbled trophy.

No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan
Michigan has stumbled through a disappointing season with a 7-4 record that could easily be sub-.500 were it not for a couple of escapes against vastly inferior opponents.  At the other end of the spectrum is Ohio State, riding a nation’s best 23-game winning streak.  In fact, the Buckeyes set a school record last weekend, surpassing the 22-game streak of the 1967-69 squads.  The team that snapped the previous mark?  The 7-2 Wolverines in Ann Arbor, of course.  When it comes to The Game, you just never ever know  — especially when a heavy home underdog is involved.

What it means for…
… the Big Ten: As is the case for the game above this one, absolutely nothing.  Not only have the Buckeyes already clinched the Leaders division, they also already know they will face Legends winner Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game next weekend in Indianapolis.  Thanks to NCAA sanctions last year, OSU will be making its first-ever appearance in the conference title game.
… the BCS: If Ohio State has any shot at a BCS title, they have to hope either Alabama or Florida State loses once the next two weekends.  Outside of the crystal title game, they could also earn an automatic BCS bowl bid with two more wins, or perhaps an at-large bid with a loss in the Big Ten title game.  Either way, their BCS future won’t be decided until next weekend, although it could certainly take a significant at-large hit with a loss this weekend.
… the Heisman: When it comes to the Buckeyes and stiff-armed talk, “what if” is certainly in play.  Braxton Miller entered the 2013 season as the Heisman front-runner, but an injury that cost him a pair of September games knocked him completely off the radar.  Thanks to the stumbles of others, the quarterback is back on at least the periphery of the discussion, although it would take something monumental to once again make the junior a serious contender.  Perhaps Carlos Hyde, he of the three-game suspension to start the year, could make a late push?  Doubtful, but, as the last couple of weeks have shown, anything is possible when it comes to the most prestigious award in college football.

No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina
Stated simply, South Carolina has owned this rivalry of late with wins each of the past four years, with none coming by less than 10 points.  Steve Spurrier has Dabo Swinney‘s number and is not shy about letting people know about it, which is part and parcel of why this is such a tremendous non-conference rivalry.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Clemson’s chances at an Atlantic division title went down in flames in the midst of a 37-point beatdown at the hands of Florida State in mid-October.  If Missouri loses to Texas A&M, South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC championship game.
… the BCS: The Gamecocks’ lone opportunity for a BCS bowl rests in securing the SEC’s automatic bid via a conference championship.  If Florida State does indeed make the BCS title game, the Tigers are primed to replace the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl and insert the 70-33 jokes here.
… the Heisman: You would think that Tajh Boyd would be in the thick of the Heisman conversation.  The Clemson quarterback’s not, and I don’t have a clue as to why.

No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford
While it’s hardly on par with Notre Dame-USC, Notre Dame-Stanford has evolved into quite the entertaining rivalry the past several years.  Of the past nine games played, six have been decided by eight points or less.  The Irish own a 6-3 edge during that span, including an overtime win in South Bend last season en route to the BCS championship game.

What it means for…
… the Pac-12: The North division’s game of hot potato continued — and ultimately ended — last week thanks to Oregon’s lopsided loss to Arizona, handing the division title and a spot in the conference title game to Stanford.  The Cardinal will (likely) travel a week later to South winner Arizona State for a game that will decide the league’s automatic BCS berth.  If the Sun Devils lose to the same Wildcats that dumped the Ducks, the Cardinal would play host.
… the BCS: The Irish have no chance to move into the top-14 of the final BCS rankings necessary to qualify them for an at-large BCS bid.  If the Cardinal entertain any hope of qualifying for a fourth straight BCS bowl, they will need to win the conference; a third loss, whether it be this week or next, would effectively eliminate them from at-large contention.

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 5 Missouri
One year after Texas A&M exploded onto the SEC scene in wildly-entertaining fashion, the Aggies have been reduced to playing the role of spoiler to a fellow former Big 12 member.  Playing the role of 2012 A&M is Missouri, which enters Week 14 with something the Aggies of a year ago didn’t: an opportunity to claim its first SEC divisional crown.

What it means for…
… the SEC: The conference scenario for Mizzou is very simple and straightforward.  Win, and the Tigers are in the SEC championship game as the East’s representative.  Lose and they’re out, replaced by South Carolina.
… the BCS: With three losses on their current résumé, there’s no need to use “A&M” and “BCS bowl” in the same sentence, unless it’s separated by “won’t be in a.”  Just as it was for its conference scenario, Mizzou’s BCS dreams are very simple and straightforward: win this weekend… win next weekend… and they’re in as the SEC’s automatic bid.  Lose at any point the next two weeks, and the Tigers will (very likely) be sitting outside the BCS window looking in.
… the Heisman: Johnny Manziel made significant repeat strides in the eyes of those who passionately follow the Heisman the last several weeks before a damaging performance against LSU seemingly knocked him out of contention.  Of course, based on how the stiff-armed landscape has drastically shifted the past couple of weeks, a resurgent performance against a high-quality opponent could put the reigning Heisman winner right back in the conversation.

Texas Tech at Texas
No. 9 Baylor at TCU
The most interesting aspect of this pair of games is how Baylor responds to an embarrassing and devastating loss.  In firm control of the Big 12 race entering Week 13 and with a BCS title game appearance a possibility, the Bears’ loss to Oklahoma State all but ruined what was a once-promising season.  A loss to the Cowboys the previous week, oddly enough, also cost Texas control of its own destiny in the conference.

What it means for…
… the Big 12: Here are the scenarios for each of the one-loss teams currently tied atop the Big 12 standings and what they need to happen to claim the conference crown.

  • Oklahoma State: a win over Oklahoma in Bedlam Dec. 7 coming off a bye week, regardless of what Baylor or Texas do and based on head-to-head wins over both.
  • Baylor: an OSU loss, plus wins over TCU and Texas.
  • Texas: an OSU loss, plus wins over Texas Tech and Baylor.

… the BCS: For both Baylor and Texas, their BCS bowl odds are long.  Each needs an Oklahoma State loss in order to claim the Big 12’s automatic berth as neither will be in play for an at-large bid, although there’s an asterisk when it comes to that absolute –there are a couple of scenarios that could get BU in as an at-large, although they are longshots at best and pipe dreams at worst.

No. 24 Duke at North Carolina
Will the shoe fit, or will the clock strike midnight on Duke’s Cinderella season?  The Blue Devils are in the midst of a historic campaign, with nine wins tying the school record set in 1941 and the opportunity to reach double digits for the first time since the program began playing football back in 1922.  They’ve qualified for a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.  Simply put, Duke is one of the best stories of the 2013 season.  Whether the Blue Devils cap their fairy-tale story with a divisional crown remains to be seen.

What it means for…
… the ACC: If Duke beats North Carolina, which has won five straight after beginning the season 1-5, the Blue Devils will stake their claim to their first-ever ACC Coastal title.  If not?  A five-way tie between Duke (5-2), Virginia Tech (4-3), Miami (4-3), Georgia Tech (5-3) and North Carolina (4-3) is a possibility, although only the first four remain alive in the divisional race.  So, if Duke loses and all Coastal hell breaks loose, here’s what each team would need in order to secure the spot as Florida State’s sacrificial lamb in the ACC championship game.

  • Duke: a win over North Carolina; cannot win the division with a loss.
  • Virginia Tech: a Duke loss, plus a win over Virginia.
  • Miami: a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, plus a win over Pittsburgh.
  • Georgia Tech (ACC slate complete): a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, a Miami loss.

… the BCS: Whichever team survives the Coastal chaos and represents the division in the division in the ACC championship technically has an opportunity to secure an automatic BCS bid.  Realistically, none of the four teams with a chance to win the Coastal has any type of shot at upsetting the Seminoles in Charlotte.

USF at No. 19 UCF
How little respect does UCF get?  The Knights, whose lone loss on the season came by three points to No. 10 South Carolina, are ranked by the coaches three spots behind a one-loss Louisville team that UCF beat on the road.  Obviously the lack of respect for the AAC as a whole is playing a significant role, but it doesn’t change the fact that George O’Leary‘s squad deserves better treatment in the polls than what they’ve been getting.

What it means for…
… the AAC: A win by UCF pushes its conference record to 7-0 and clinches the AAC regardless of what the Knights do a week later against SMU.  Louisville’s conference title hopes remain alive but on life support, with the Cardinals needing two UCF losses as well as a win of their own Dec. 5 at Cincinnati.
… the BCS: The AAC receives an automatic BCS bid, so a conference crown for UCF also means a guaranteed spot at the BCS table, with the chair likely coming in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC foe.

No. 16 Fresno State at San Jose State
This game is all about the scenarios and possibilities, which appear below.

What it means for…
… the MWC: Fresno State has already clinched the West and will represent that division in the MWC championship game.  The Bulldogs will face Utah State for the league title if the Aggies beat Wyoming Saturday, Boise State — based on the head-to-head tiebreaker with USU — if the Broncos beat New Mexico and the Aggies lose.
… the BCS: If Fresno State can win out, they will battle Northern Illinois for what should be the lone BCS bowl berth for a non-automatic qualifying conference member.  In order for a non-AQ to qualify for an at-large bid, it needs to finish in the top-16 of the final BCS rankings and ahead of the lowest-ranked AQ conference winner (No. 19 UCF in this case); the Huskies leapfrogged the Bulldogs in last week’s rankings and are now at No. 14, while Fresno sits at No. 16.  Whichever of those two teams finish ranked higher in the final BCS standings, provided it’s in the top-16 and ahead of (presumably) UCF, will grab the non-AQ berth and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
… the Heisman: Derek Carr is one of the most prolific passers in the country, ranking first in total offense and passing touchdowns and second in passing yards.  Up until this week, however, he’s barely been a part of the Heisman discussion.  Thanks to the shortcomings of others he’s now in the mix, although it should never have taken others tripping up for that to happen.

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With one game complete, Baylor has still yet to allow a point at McLane Stadium

Sam B. Richardson, Shawn Oakman

It didn’t come with the customary fireworks, but No. 10 Baylor still made easy work of SMU on Sunday night, shutting out their neighbors to the north, 45-0.

The game was the first in brand new McLane Stadium, you may have heard something about that, featured a pre-game statue unveiling of Robert Griffin III, and was attended by former President George W. Bush. The Bears got their points and their yards (574) but it was Phil Bennett’s defense that provided the best performance of the night.

Three SMU quarterbacks took the field, and all three failed to average three yards per attempt. Neal Burcham started the game and hit 15-of-26 passes for 159 yards. He was relieved by Texas A&M transfer Matt Davis, who hit 3-of-6 throws for 12 yards and an interception. Finally, true freshman Kolney Cassel finished the night by connecting on 3-of-8 throws for a grand total of 20 yards. Only Cassel managed to move the Mustangs into Baylor territory, and not until the 10:05 mark of the fourth quarter. And that was SMU’s most efficient mode of transportation. Led by Prescott Line’s four carries for 18 yards, SMU was credited with 25 rushes for minus-24 yards.

In all, the Mustangs’ offense took the field 15 times on Sunday night, went backwards four times, traveled less than 10 yards a dozen times, and strung together more than seven plays only once.

Baylor’s offense – though lightyears ahead of SMU – was not without its opening night struggles, either. Bryce Petty hit 13-of-23 passes for 161 yards for two touchdowns (and added another score on the ground) before sitting the second half with a back injury. Petty spent much of the first half grimacing and grabbing his left hip. Both Petty and backup Seth Russell (124 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, one touchdown) left a number of points on the field by consistently missing open receivers behind the SMU defense. Eight Baylor rushers totaled 50 carries for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Antwan Goodley also played only two series after aggravating a quad injury suffered in fall camp.

Freshman kicker Chris Callahan missed three of his four field goal tries, and was replaced by Kyle Peterson for the Bears’ sixth and final extra point try.

The health of Petty and Goodley are the key story lines for Art Briles’ team moving forward, but with Northwestern State, Buffalo and Iowa State waiting in September, the Bears have time to be patient.

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For one night at least, Tennessee acts like an SEC powerhouse again

They know what’s coming. They’re well aware of those consecutive road trips to Norman and Athens in the coming weeks. And they’ve not forgotten about those three weeks requiring a road trip to Ole Miss, a home date with Alabama, and a road trip to South Carolina later this season. Your reminders are not necessary.

For one night, though, none of that mattered.

Tennessee crushed Utah State 38-7 on Sunday night and, before its first sellout in seven years, had 102,000 in orange rocking Neyland Stadium like it did so many times throughout the 1990’s. The Vols used a Pig Howard eight-yard end around, a fumbled kickoff return and a 12-yard Justin Worley touchdown toss to Brendan Downs all in the span of three plays to build a 14-0 lead six minutes into the first quarter, carried a 17-0 lead into halftime, and then dealt the Aggies a knockout blow when Worley found Von Pearson for a 27-yard scoring strike with 5:31 to go in the fourth quarter.

Worley hit 27-of-38 attempts – connecting with 10 different receivers – for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He was much better than his Heisman darkhorse counterpart, as Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton connected on 18-of-35 throws for only 144 yards with one touchdown and two picks.

The Vols’ defense dominated Utah State throughout the night, allowing only 244 yards of total offense, 11 first downs and three third-down conversions in 14 tries.

A 31-point thumping may against a physically overmatched visitor from the Mountain West may have seemed preordained after the fact, but Utah State was the hottest upset pick in college football’s opening weekend. In fact, the line sank all the way down below five points by kickoff. Tennessee covered with ease.

This is not to say Butch Jones’ Vols were perfect, however. College football’s only offensive line tasked with replacing all five of its starters failed to control the line of scrimmage. Seven Big Orange ball carriers combined to rush the ball 39 times for a mere 110 yards and two touchdowns. Jones has recruited exceptionally well, but offensive lines are not built overnight. This will be a theme throughout the 2014 season for Tennessee, and there are monsters waiting in those woods.

For one passionate night at Neyland Stadium, however, none of that mattered.

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Halftime: Baylor gets help it doesn’t need, leads SMU 31-0

Bryce Petty

Baylor makes a living of scoring through two- and three-play drives. That’s a fact of life if you’re an opponent. What you don’t need to do, however, is start those drives inside your own 10-yard line.

That’s exactly what SMU did.

With the Bears holding a 3-0 lead, SMU’s Stephen Nelson coughed the ball up at his own six-yard line. Baylor recovered, and two plays later Shock Linwood had a four-yard touchdown run. One possession later, Levi Norwood returned a punt 43 yards to the SMU 4, and three snaps later Bryce Petty hit Tre’Von Armstead for a three-yard touchdown.

Speaking of Petty, he and his left hip have been the storyline of the half.

His numbers – 13-of-23 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns, plus two rushes and 21 yards and another score – look better than his actual play on the field. Grabbing his hip and grimacing at multiple points throughout the half, Petty has consistently overthrown receivers, thereby keeping a 31-0 halftime spread from becoming even more lopsided.

With the Bears leading by 31 and dominating the SMU offense (49 passing yards, -10 rushing), expect to see lots of heralded backup Seth Russell in the second half.

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Tennessee dominates early, but doesn’t blow out Utah State in first half

Justin Worley

The first Tennessee possession of the 2014 season was an ugly of a three-and-out as you’ll see. It got better from there, though, and quickly. After forcing their own three-and-out, the Vols marched 70 yards on six plays, capped by a Pig Howard eight-yard end around scoring dash.

One play later, Tennessee had the ball again.

Kennedy Williams fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his own 12 yard line, recovered by Tennessee’s Todd Kelly, Jr. Justin Worley hit Brendan Downs on the next play for a 12-yard scoring strike to put the Vols up 14-0 six minutes into the game.

The Neyland Stadium crowd was rocking, but the Volunteers did not deliver the knockout blow the 102,000 orange faithful expected.

Chuckie Keeton amassed only 79 passing yards, but Tennessee had issues along its offensive line – shocking, for a group replacing all five starters – and only an Aaron Medley field goal dotted the scoreboard in the final 24 minutes of the first half as the Vols staked a 17-0 halftime edge.

 

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Texas C Dominic Espinosa breaks ankle, may miss rest of the season

Mississippi v Texas

In an otherwise stellar debut, just about the only thing to go wrong for Charlie Strong and Texas was losing veteran center Dominic Espinosa to an apparent ankle injury late in the Longhorns’ 38-7 defeat of North Texas on Saturday night.

One day later, the results are in and they don’t look good for the ‘Horns.

As first reported by Orangebloods.com, Espinosa suffered a broken right ankle and will likely miss the rest of his senior season. The report was later confirmed by HornsDigest.com and the Austin American-Statesman.

A fifth-year player with 40 starts under his belt, Espinosa was supposed to be the glue of a revamped offensive line under coach Joe Wickline. Espinosa was replaced by redshirt freshman Jake Raulerson and the offense suffered for it. Texas suffered numerous center-quarterback exchange issues following Espinosa’s injury, including one inside its own end zone that directly led to the Mean Green’s only touchdown.

Strong did not provide any comment on Espinosa’s situation following the game, and the school has not issued any statement today. Strong is scheduled to meet with the media on Monday.

Texas faces BYU on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1).

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Baylor unveils Robert Griffin III statue, is indeed RGIII

Robert Griffin III

Still six months shy of his 25th birthday, Robert Griffin III may be the youngest person in America with his own statue. Though, if you’d brought to Baylor what RGIII has – a Heisman Trophy, boatloads of wins, a brand new (and since shattered) offensive record book and, perhaps most importantly, a basis for the support needed to construct a new stadium – in your first quarter-century on Earth, perhaps you’d have your own statue, too.

The 9.5-foot statue stood under a black cloak before its ceremonial unveiling in advance of tonight’s McLane Stadium opening game versus SMU.

“It just wasn’t me,” Griffin told the San Antonio Express-News. “If you look at the guys who came in with me, the guys who were there before we got here. They are all a part of it from Grant Teaff to Coach Briles. Kendall Wright, Lanear Sampson, Terrence Williams, Phil Taylor, Danny Watkins, Jason Smith, I can go on for days.

“I know my guys and I know they know when I say this is for them, they believe me. They know we couldn’t have done it without each other. So I appreciate them. I know a couple of them will be here today and I can’t wait to see them.”

Griffin, on leave from his job as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, wore a sport coat on top of jeans and tennis shoes because, as he told the assembled green and gold crowd, “I’m here to party.”

No. 10 Baylor and SMU kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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South Carolina RB Mike Davis “sort of doubtful” for East Carolina

Mike Davis

Nothing went according to plan for No. 9 South Carolina in its 52-28 opening-night loss to No. 21 Texas A&M on Thursday. There were the 511 passing yards allowed to Aggies quarterback Kenny Hillthe missed opportunities to retaliate against a spacious Texas A&M secondary by Gamecocks signal caller Dylan Thompson, and then there was the impact for South Carolina running back Mike Davis.

More accurately, the lack of an impact.

Hamstrung by rib issues, Davis carried just six times for 15 yards, and caught one pass for a solitary yard on the evening. Davis did not touch the ball after the midway point of the second quarter.

Four days later, Steve Spurrier lists his star runner as “sort of doubtful” for Saturday’s East Carolina game, according to the Associated Press.

Davis was a bell cow for the Gamecocks last season, toting the rock 203 times for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns, and catching an additional 34 passes for 352 yards. A a nagging rib injury that reared its head in fall camp follows him into September, Davis faces an uphill climb to match those numbers in his junior season.

South Carolina (0-1) hosts East Carolina (1-0) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU on Saturday.

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Oregon opens a TD and a half favorite for Michigan State showdown

Marcus Mariota

The last time Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State Spartans went west, they came home with a 24-20 Rose Bowl title over Stanford, a team that just happened to have its way with Oregon last November.

Nine months later, No. 8 Michigan State is an 11-point underdog to those third-ranked Ducks, according to VegasInsider.com. Sure, The transitive property does not apply to football. And, yes, styles make fights. But, still, 11 is a lot of points for a team to give to a team that doesn’t often allow very many points at all.

Michigan State opened its season Friday with a 45-7 drubbing of Jacksonville State, while Oregon began its season with a 62-13 defeat of South Dakota. Just enough work for Marcus Mariota, Shilique Calhoun and their charges to rev the engines a time or two in preparation for Saturday.

A year ago, Oregon ranked third nationally in scoring offense, ninth in rushing and second in total offense, while Michigan State placed second in total defense, second in rushing and third in scoring. In other words, this is the most intriguing inter-sectional non-conference game in some time.

It should be a barn burner, unless Vegas is to be believed.

ESPN’s CollegeGameDay will be in Eugene to hype the action, which can be seen nationally on FOX at 6:30 p.m. ET.

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Forget Oregon? USC may have the new up-tempo offense

Steve Sarkisian

The start of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC had a rough introduction leading up to the game itself, but once the ball was kicked it was a completely different story. USC’s offense showed some new wrinkles as Sarkisian started to leave a new stamp on the Trojans. It was only one game, but a preview of things to come certainly seems to suggest the Trojans are going to keep the pressure on with their offense.

As noted in John’s week one round-up, USC ran 104 plays in a victory over Fresno State. The total number of plays is a new Pac-12 record, which says something given Oregon is in the conference and up-tempo coaches like Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham are picking up the pace on offense. USC will not be running 104 plays every week, but the trend could see the Trojans running more plays than usual.  For the sake of comparison, USC ran an average of 68.4 plays per game in 2013 (67.5 plays per game in 2012, 70.6 plays per game in 2011).

It was only one game, naturally, but the Trojans were on fire on offense. USC converted 1 of 18 third-down attempts and racked up over 700 yards of offense. Cody Kessler had a great game, passing for 394 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Javorious Allen led the way running the football for 133 yards. Eight different Trojans ran the football and 10 different players caught a pass as USC spread things around.

One other point to consider is USC’s offense looked far more promising than their city rivals from UCLA did in week one. Of course, UCLA flew across the country to play on the east coast at noon eastern. That is no easy task for any team from the west coast, college or pro, but the Bruins were sloppy on offense. UCLA’s offense was probably not as weak as it looked against Virginia, and USC’s offense may not be quite as explosive as it was in this match-up. Letting the schedule play out will provide more time to evaluate it all more fairly.

Sarkisian’s debut could not have gone much better.

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Mike London has a QB question to answer

UCLA Virginia Football

College football is a sport that demands quick attention and response to various situations. If a head coach makes a change too late, it can cost his team a game or a season. As a result, it can end up costing a coach a job. Such is the case at Virginia, where head coach Mike London faces a quarterback situation that may demand a swift response.

It was only one game, but Virginia’s performance against UCLA was truly a tale of two quarterbacks. Greyson Lambert got the start for the Cavaliers against UCLA. Lambert found way to move the Virginia offense against the Bruins defense, using safe and accurate passes to move the offense. It was the costly mistakes that really took a toll on Virginia’s chances for an upset bid of one of the top programs from the Pac-12. Lambert was intercepted twice by the Bruins, and both happened to end up in the end zone for UCLA touchdowns. It was a brilliant day by the UCLA defense, which put up more points than either team’s offense in the season opener, so a bit of bad luck came into play.

Regardless, London needed to try something different. Enter Matt Johns, who took over under center after the UCLA defense had turned three turnovers into a 21-3 lead in the first half. Johns was not as accurate with his pass completions, but he threw for more yards and got the offense in the end zone twice through the air. Who knows if Johns would have avoided the trouble of the UCLA defense scoring three touchdowns, but Virginia seemed to be more assertive once Johns entered the game. The damage may have already been done by the time he came in, but now London has something to think about heading into week two against his old program, Richmond.

At the moment, London is holding off on making a decision on where the quarterback position goes from here.

“Greyson is a young man who understands that, as the game is going, there are decisions made that are in the best interest of the team,” London said, according to The Roanoke Times. “Right now, we haven’t seen film, we haven’t talked to the coaches and haven’t gotten the grades,” London said, “so, to speak on that [next week’s starter] right now… we just don’t know.”

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Report: Miami and FIU scheduling 2018-2019 series

Raymond Jackson

The last time Miami and Florida International got together for a football game, it was ugly. Really ugly. Here’s hoping tempers will be a bit cooler the next time these two schools get together. According to one Miami sportswriter, a two-game series could be announced soon.

Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald reports in his Sunday column Miami and FIU are working on details for a two-game series in 2018 and 2019. The 2018 game will reportedly be played in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. Where the 2019 game will be played is unknown at this time, although it would be unlikely Miami would agree to play a game at FIU when the game could draw more potential fans for both schools in Sun Life Stadium, or whatever the stadium will be called by that point in time. Jackson suggests playing the game in Marlins Park, home to baseball’s Miami Marlins, could be an option for the 2019 game.

The last time Miami and FIU played was in 2007, but the 2006 game was the cause for a temporary cancellation of all sporting events scheduled between the two schools. Following a Miami touchdown in the third quarter, a brawl broke out between the two teams following the extra point attempt. Punches were thrown, kicks were landed, and body slams and choke holds were executed in the madness. In all, police had to take the field to help calm things down and 13 players were ejected from the game.

Miami and FIU are separated by just nine miles, and there is very much a potential for big brother-little brother mentality here given Miami’s place in the ACC and FIU’s place in Conference USA.

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Georgia’s Gurley, UCLA’s Kendricks earn Walter Camp POTW honors

Todd Gurley

The first weekend of the college football season is not quite in the books (two games on tap today and Louisville-Miami on Monday), but Georgia running back Todd Gurley and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks have been singled out for their individual performances by The Walter Camp Football Foundation. Each was named the foundation’s players of the week for week one.

Gurley was a monster in Georgia’s victory over Clemson in Athens. Gurley set a school record with 293 all-purpose yards with 198 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It was certainly a performance worthy of early Heisman hype. The Georgia back played a key role in allowing Georgia to pull away from Clemson in a 24-0 second half of a 45-21 victory over Clemson. Gurley is the ninth Georgia football player in school history to be honored by The Walter Camp Football Foundation’s weekly award since 2004.

The defensive weekly honor went to UCLA’s Kendricks. The redshirt senior linebacker led the Bruins with 16 tackles and forced a fumble on the road against Virginia. It was a particularly strong defensive showing for UCLA with 21 points scored in the second quarter. In that mix was an interception returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Kendricks. Kendricks is the fifth UCLA player to win the defensive weekly award since 2004.

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Hospitalized Wisconsin lineman Zagzebski out of hospital

Konrad Zagzebski, Michael Caputo, Marion Grice

Wisconsin suffered a tough loss Saturday night in Houston against LSU, but the concern for injured fifth-year senior Konrad Zagzebski was far more serious than the result of the game.  Zagzebski was taken off the field on a stretcher following a collision in Saturday night’s game. He was taken to a hospital and has since been released, which is always good news.

The defensive end was taken to Methodist Hospital in Houston for medical treatment, but was able to leave the hospital and return home with his teammates.

When Zagzebski was being attended to on the field, it was one of those rough moments in football when you see concern grow on both sidelines. Even in the heat of competition, a moment like that shows the respect and compassion each team has for each other. As Wisconsin’s team took a knee on their sideline while Zagzebski was being cared to by medical staff, LSU’s team also took a knee and the stadium grew quiet. Nerves were calmed as Zagzebski gave a thumbs up on the stretcher on his way out.

The rush to the hospital was initially deemed a precaution, which is standard procedure for injuries of this nature. Whether or not he will be right back on the field for Wisconsin’s next game will be determined later.

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Chris Petersen’s Washington debut was no vacation in Hawaii

Chris Petersen

As a head coach at Boise State, Chris Petersen won four straight games against Hawaii by a combined score of 172-37. The margin of victory in his debut as head coach of the No. 25 Washington Huskies (1-0) was significantly closer. Washington won their 2014 season opener on the road in Hawaii by a final score of 17-16.

This game proved to be more of a gut check than anticipated. Hawaii jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the visiting Huskies in the first quarter. Washington got in the end zone before the quarter came to a close when John Ross dashed 20 yards on a reverse for the score. Ross struck again on the receiving end of a 91-yard pass play from Jeff Lindquist, who got the start at quarterback for Washington. Washington took a 17-10 lead to the half. Washington’s offense was unable to score in the second half against the Rainbow Warriors, allowing the home team to chip away.

Hawaii had chances to grab a win but failed to capitalize on a couple of opportunities throughout the game. A trick play inside the Washington 10-yard line resulted in a turnover on downs, when a field goal could have been the difference. One play later came the 91-yard touchdown play for Washington. Hawaii also missed a field goal at the end of the first half from 40 yards out after two incomplete passes. A fumbled punt by Washington in the third quarter was also recovered by the Huskies at the Washington 33-yard line.

Where Washington goes from here should be interesting to watch unfold. Cyler Miles was suspended from the season opener but should slide into the starting lineup soon enough. His skills at the position should help boost the offense a bit. Lindquist was mostly unreliable with 10 completions on 26 attempts, mostly capitalizing on the 91-yard play for his stats. Washington should be better than the performance against Hawaii would suggest.

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Week one around college football shows why preseason rankings stink

Oklahoma State v Florida State

I don’t know about you, but Oklahoma State sure looked like a top 25 team to me as I watched the Cowboys give defending national champion and consensus preseason umber one Florida State all they could handle. The Pokes forced Jameis Winston to look vulnerable at times (although the best player in college football overcame that by showing just why he won the Heisman Trophy in 2013 when needed) with a pair of interceptions. Oklahoma State held Florida State to just four third down conversions on 14 attempts and nearly countered every punch thrown by Florida State in the second half, pushing the Seminoles to the final second. Oklahoma State lost the game, of course, and there is not much of a chance any voter will include them in a top 25 poll this week.

But would it be fair to say Oklahoma State’s loss to Florida State was more respectable than No. 25 Washington’s 17-16 win at Hawaii? Maybe, depending on whom you ask.

The controversy and debate over preseason rankings are nothing new. The reason they exist is purely for debate, conversation and in this day and age, page views. We’re all guilty of it, even those of us who question why preseason rankings exist. We all check them out, even if we say we do not care about them. This week in college football will add some fuel to that discussion, but nothing will change.

Is No. 21 Texas A&M and new Heisman contender Kenny Hill really 24 points better than No. 9 South Carolina? What do we make of No. 7 UCLA beating Virginia by eight points when the offense only scored seven points (that defense is good, but they will not put up 21 points each week)? How much should we boost No. 12 Georgia or drop No. 16 Clemson after Todd Gurley muscled the Bulldogs’ 24-point victory? Ohio State was ranked fifth in the preseason polls, before quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year. They pulled away from Navy in Baltimore, but could possibly fall in the rankings without doing anything wrong.

Aside from the mismatches with FCS competition, the only game that may have been the best representation of the preseason rankings was No. 13 LSU coming from behind to defeat No. 14 Wisconsin, and the Badgers sure did not look like a top 15 team while letting a 24-7 second-half lead evaporate. Injuries on defensive line were one thing, but giving Melvin Gordon the football just three times for one yard, turning over the football twice and going three-and-out three times is not what a top 15 team does, even against a team as talented as LSU.

The good news is things should be different this season. With no BCS computer formulas adding various rankings into the equation and a selection committee chosen to determine the tp four teams at the end of the season, where teams fall in the preseason rankings may not have as much of an impact. It will be hard for the selection committee to stray from the long, storied tradition of poll and ranking philosophy, but they will not be influenced as much by preseason rankings as they are results on the field. But then again, isn’t the weight of the results on the field influenced by the preseason rankings? Oh boy.

The new Associated Press top 25 will be released on Tuesday this week, to account for games being played Sunday (No. 10 Baylor vs SMU, Tennessee vs. Utah State) and Monday night (Louisville vs. Miami).

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